Randy's Love/Hate Relationship with Magnolias
Howdy Gardening Enthusiasts!
"I don't like Magnolia trees!" Randy Lemmon, Gardenline Host
Yes, I've said that many times before on the GardenLine, and received lots of pretty terse email and snail mail responses as a result. "That boy must be a Yankee!" -- Is normally what I'm told. (I'm not - but I suppose my heritage can be in a tip sheet for a different day) Thus, I thought it was high time to clarify my position. Yes, their blooms are magnificent, and yes a healthy one is a tremendous shade tree - on those points I couldn't agree with you more. And it's not my goal to talk you out of planting one. It really isn't. While I don't personally like them, that really only means I wouldn't personally want one in my landscape.
So, before I get to some care practice tips for those of you who would like to plant one, let me explain those reasons I never will. First, the leaves are a pain-in-the-pittooty (did I spell that right?). They're big and bulky, impossible to rake normally and can't be easily composted unless you have a chipper/shredder. Second, a long-time colleague of mine from the Texas A&M Horticulture Program said it perfectly. "I've never met a Magnolia under 10 years old that I liked, and I've never met a Magnolia over 25 years old that I didn't love. That means if they are taken care of properly, they are magnificent specimens. But very few people stay in any one residence long enough to enjoy fully those which they planted years back.
There is one caveat these days to my Magnolia AVERSION - Little Gems! These are dwarf versions of Magnolias and make great "accent" trees in landscaping. Which means they are perfect for the corners of houses. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the massive crop of uninformed and uneducated landscapers out there, often times regular Magnolias are planted when and where there should be a dwarf … like right up next to the house.
The best tip I can give anyone who is interested in a Magnolia (regular-sized or otherwise) is to leave it alone when it comes to pruning. In fact, the picture I have provided for this tip sheet (as a perfect example) is easily over 20 years old, and obviously has not been pruned from the bottom up. Pruning trees is the penchant for most people, but it really should never be done to a Magnolia. (The same is true for pine trees, but that's a tip sheet for a different day.) Again, the healthiest Magnolias are never pruned, just for the sake of pruning. Look at this example below… You couldn't get a lawnmower under there, and you surely couldn't and shouldn't be planting anything else. But also look how incredibly healthy it is. This picture was taken at the Sugar Creek Country Club Golf Course. I believe it's on hole 5 on the "New Nine."
Also, don't forget, like with any good tree specimen for the Houston area, deep-root feeding is really the first key to success, beyond the so-called "pruning avoidance" I mentioned above. Here's the link to that tip sheet.
And, lest we forget that most great-growing trees are also a benefit of proper planting, here's my technique for the proper planting of trees and large shrubs, so they'll get off to the best start.
Okay, with that said, the only other really key care practice you need to remember is to occasionally feed it an Azalea food as well. Like the azaleas, camellias and gardenias, the Magnolia can benefit from acid-loving plant food.
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